Now that the state legislature has finally voted to change the flag and seal, it’s time for Massachusetts to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, and ban the use of Native mascots in all the public schools in the Commonwealth.
After 36 years of delay, on January 6th, 2021, the Massachusetts legislature finally voted to change the state flag and seal.
Since 1629, the official symbol of Massachusetts has featured a white supremacist caricature of a Native person holding a downward pointed arrow. For the last 240 years, that official state symbol has included a white hand brandishing a Colonial broadsword over the Native person’s head, with a Latin motto underneath that translates: “Peace Under the Sword…”
Now, that hideous symbol is heading for the trashbin of history, where all such overtly racist symbols belong.
In the final minutes of the legislative session, past midnight, legislators rushed to put their approval on the resolve to change the flag and seal, which the great African American state legislator Byron Rushing first introduced with the support of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs in 1984. Rushing reintroduced that resolve year after year, only to have it blocked by his mostly white colleagues for 17 consecutive sessions. Now, at last, by approving the resolve, the legislature has chosen to come to terms with our grim history of colonialism, and the ongoing oppression of Native people in their birthright lands.
This acknowledgement, while only a tentative first step toward healing relations with Native Nations, is not the less welcome for being long overdue. The days when the government of Massachusetts offered cash bounties for the scalps of Native people must be buried along with the state flag that glorified such violence.
Four hundred years have passed since the Pilgrims first planted their colony at Pawtuxet, initiating a wave of land taking, viral plagues, and armed conquest that swept across the continent. While it may seem difficult to conceive of reparation for genocide and the removal of Native children from their cultures, substantive issues like land return, cooperation in cultural preservation, improvements in the provision of health care and educational opportunity, and the assurance of an adequate economic base on their own lands for all Native Nations must now be on the table, starting here in the Commonwealth.
With the establishment of a special commission to invite leaders of Native Nations of the region now called Massachusetts to sit with state legislators to design a new state flag and seal, the chance for meaningful dialogue will open.
In this time of climate crisis, species collapse and the ongoing degradation of the Earth which sustains us all, the voices and leadership of Native people are urgently needed and earnestly sought.
We thank the legislators of Massachusetts for inviting this dialogue with the passage of this resolve. We look forward to the day, coming soon, when children in our schools will learn from the living Native cultures of this land beneath a new state flag and seal, one that truly reflects the ideals of harmony, respect and understanding between all who share the Commonwealth today.
Governor Charlie Baker has 10 days to sign the resolve which will establish the special commission to design a new state flag and seal. Write to urge him to do so at once, at: www.mass.gov/forms/email-the-governors-office